(MIAMI-AFP) – Oscar-nominated child star Quvenzhane Wallis brings her trademark zest to a new big-screen version of the classic Broadway musical “Annie,” retold for the social media era.
The film — incidentally among the Sony productions leaked online by hackers — tells the story of the young heroine who, while striving to find her real parents to save her from her cruel carer Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), wins the heart of cellphone tycoon Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx).
The remake, directed by Will Gluck and set in present-day New York rather than the Great Depression of the 1930s, is due out this week in the United States and 10 other territories, and much of the rest of the world next week.
The characters and upbeat message are the same as in the musical, which was first made into a movie in 1982. But 11-year-old African-American Wallis and the rest of the cast bring a new perspective to the story.
“The characters, certainly the story, and the message is still the same, the optimism is still the same,” Diaz told AFP.
“The cast is so diverse, that allows more children in the world to relate to it, to see themselves reflected back from the screen,” she added.
“I think we got to play totally new characters in a world that kids can relate to and they understand… there is social media they can relate to,” she said.
Diaz sang for the first time in a movie — an experience about which she was apprehensive. But in the end, she said: “I loved that I got the opportunity to take on something that was really a very scary thing for me.”
– Talented Wallis –
The musical’s songs have also been updated with the pop-style production of veteran rapper Jay-Z and musician-actor Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett, among others.
Diaz and Foxx said it was a pleasure working with Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar for her startlingly mature performance in 2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
Wallis’s “Annie” role has already secured her a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a musical or comedy.
“She is very talented. You forget she is only 11 years old,” said Foxx, who said he based his own character on impresario, rapper and producer Sean “P Diddy” Combs.
“To watch her bloom and grow into this character, it was fun,” he said.
As well as using social media intelligently — for example in a climactic scene which uses cellphone photos — the movie also broaches the dangers which such media bring with them.
“Miss Hannigan represents the epidemic that is happening in our society today where people, especially young kids, are putting their self-worth on how many likes they get or how many followers they have on social media,” said Diaz.
– Helping to heal –
The actors also hope the film will help calm things down after unrest triggered by a series of killings of African Americans by white police officers in the US, notably in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.
“Hopefully it is just part of the overall healing,” said Foxx.
The release of “Annie” also comes amid the hacking crisis surrounding Sony Pictures.
The film was one of a handful of Sony productions leaked online by cyber-attackers who are protesting the release of a film about a fictional CIA assassination attempt on North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.
“It is a great thing to be able to go and see a movie in a theater, specially this kind of movie, in a theater on a big screen,” Diaz said.